Survey of the States: Special Education Knowledge Requirements for School Administrators

Article excerpt

* The administration of special education programs and the delivery of educational services to students with disabilities has been significantly altered since the passage of Public Law 94-142. The special education administrator not only is required to translate the law and plan for compliance, but also has to be skilled in interpreting the potential impact of significant court cases on policy and practice within the school district Prillaman & Richardson, 1985). For example, the Supreme Court decision in Honig v. Doe (1988) delineates the proper role of educators in the suspension and expulsion of students with disabilities. As a result, local school policies regarding the discipline of these students have been significantly altered to fulfill the requirements of the court ruling. The principal, as the instructional leader and manager of the total educational system of the school, assumes responsibility for special education at the building level. Consequently, the principal must assure the delivery of educational services to students with disabilities and meet the procedural requirements of the law. Therefore, a knowledge of special education law has become essential to ensure an appropriate education for special education students and to reduce a school district's liability for potential litigation.

Although it is evident that a knowledge of special education law is essential to effectively implement the requirements of P.L. 94-142, research has found that principals' knowledge of special education law is in need of improvement (Cline, 1981; Olson, 1982). In four studies of special education programs, Weinstein (1989) concluded that administrators did not take full responsibility as instructional leaders for their schools' special education programs. Specifically, he found that the principals were unsure or unaware of guidelines for student placement and exit from special education programs. A study of principals' knowledge of special education law conducted by Hirth and Valesky (1989) found that principals know more about procedural safeguards than the provision of educational services, but that principals show gaps in their knowledge of special education law. Hirth and Valesky concluded: "Principals' knowledge of special education law is not sufficient to ensure that mistakes in implementation of procedural safeguards and/or the provision of educational services will not occur" (p. 136). This lack of knowledge is alarming, particularly in view of a trend toward more integration of regular and special education into a single and unified system of delivery. Although two separate educational systems have evolved over the years, O'Neil (1988) stated that beginning in the mid- 1980s, a major proposal to better unify regular and special education has gained prominence among some researchers and practitioners.

Madeleine Will, former Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education, proposed strategies to improve the education of students who have learning problems in a report entitled Educating Students with Learning Problems: A Shared Responsibility (1986). This proposal, known as the regular education initiative (REI), suggests how regular and special education can develop a partnership to help students who are at risk for academic failure. One of the proposed strategies is to empower principals to control all programs and resources at the building level--a strategy that corresponds to a trend toward school--based decision making. Prevailing practices generally assign principals responsibility for special education programs in their schools; however, resources are not always under the control of the principal. Rather, resources are budgeted and allocated through the central office administration. According to Will (1986), "The principal must be empowered to create programs that can build individualized education plans based on the needs of children, plans shaped to fit the availability of resources " (p. …


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